Though Malta is still relatively unknown to many North American travelers, the archipelago nation is quickly becoming a tourist favorite among Europeans. And there are many reasons for this: the beautiful landscapes, the sapphire waters, the unique rock formations, the heritage, the culture, the history.
History is everywhere you look in Malta. It oozes from the towering cathedrals that dominate the country’s landscapes. It lies hidden away in the narrow streets and alleyways of the island’s postcard-perfect cities. And it is embedded in the complex fabric of Malta’s language, its architecture and its identity. From the long legacy of the Knights of St John to the existence of temples that predate the Egyptian Pyramids, Maltese history is fascinating, complex and multifaceted.
My journey to southern Malta brought me face to face with the island’s storied past. After exploring Malta’s beautiful fortified cities and spending a day at the stunning blue lagoon in Comino, I decided to head South toward the traditional fishing village of Marxaslokk. From there, I turned the clock back thousands of years with a visit to the ancient megalithic temples of Malta.
I began my visit to southern Malta by taking bus 81 to Marxaslokk from Valletta’s main station. Marxaslokk is a quaint and colorful fishing village that is characterized by the traditional boats that bob up and down in its harbor. These cheery boats are known locally as luzzus and are painted in bright, primary colors. Each boat is decorated with eyes that are said to protect the fishermen at sea.
Every Sunday, the whole population of Malta seems to flock to Marxaslokk to attend the fish market–a weekly affair featuring everything from swordfish to sea bream to rockfish to clams.
I shoved through the crowds and took a peek at the market’s offerings, before sitting down on one of the harbor’s protruding docks. From my spot on the dock, I watched the hurried frenzy of market-goers and admired the surrounding jumble of brightly colored fishing boats.
Heeding the advice I received at my hostel in St Julian’s, I decided to follow my visit to the Marxaslokk fish market with a quick dip in St Peter’s Pool–a nearby swimming hole that is a favorite among locals.
From the town’s harbor, I followed signs to the swimming hole. It was not until I was ready to plunge into the water, that I realized I had forgotten to bring swimwear. So, after cooling off in the shade for a bit, I continued on, toward Malta’s megalithic temples.
Since there is no direct bus from Marxaslokk to the megalithic temples, I took bus 210 to Xwendi, followed by bus 72 to Qrendi. From Qrendi, I walked the remaining half hour to the temple complex–relishing the views of rural Malta along the way.
Though Malta is densely packed and covered in a blanket of urban sprawl, I found the sparsely populated pockets of the country to be beautiful in their harshness. Prickly pear cactuses scramble up the sides of stone fences and a patchwork of earthy tones extends outward, as far as the eye can see. The landscape is bare, bleak and colorless.
As I made my way across pastures and along dusty roads, the sun beat down ferociously. In this arid and treeless country, I found very little shade.
I arrived at Malta’s ancient temples in the late afternoon and spent about an hour visiting the two adjacent sites of Hagar Qim and Mnajdra.
Malta’s megalithic temples are old–older than the Pyramids, Stonehenge and the ruins of ancient Rome. And, while today Hagar Qim and Mnajdra may look like little more than piles of rocks, these unassuming structures are among the oldest freestanding buildings in the world.
UNESCO has granted Malta’s megalithic temples (Hagar Qim, Mnajdra, Tarxien and Ggantija) status as world heritage sites, for each temple is remarkable in its architectural and technological achievements.
Had my day trip to southern Malta gone flawlessly, my visit to the megalithic temples would have been followed by a stop at the Blue Grotto. Yet, a combination of poor planning and a winter reduction in visiting hours meant that I arrived at the site’s ticket booth shortly after it had closed. It was only 3:30pm, but the last boat ride to the caves had already left a few minutes prior.
While I am disappointed that I missed out on seeing one of the country’s most famous and beloved natural attractions, I imagine that the Blue Grotto in Malta is similar to the azure cave I saw in Capri.
Southern Malta is home to some of the country’s most impressive highlights. It is in this region that I was able to delve into the Malta’s past and discover the legacies of its ancient civilizations. It is in this region that I was able to enjoy the country’s rural heart, away from the crowds. And it is in this region that I found a microcosm of everything that makes Malta so special–picturesque villages, rugged nature, awe-inspiring ocean views and a complex, multifaceted history.
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